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An Invitation to Discipleship: If Anyone Enters by Me...
John 10:1 - 10:15
April 3, 2022
Reverend Jason Harris
Everybody wants to be happy, but true happiness often eludes us. We sense that something is missing, but we do not know where fullness can be found. Jesus offers a surprising resolution to our search and an invitation to receive the abundant life we so desire.
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The most popular class that has ever been taught at Yale is the "happiness course," taught by cognitive scientist Laurie Santos. When she first offered Psychology and the Good Life in 2018, one-quarter of the entire undergraduate student body enrolled in the class. What does that tell you? On the positive side, it shows us that these young high achievers want to find scientifically tested ways to live a happier life, and that's a good thing. But viewed negatively, it shows us that despite everything that these bright young people have going for them, the one thing that we all want—simple happiness—seems to have escaped them. And it's not just the young people. Thousands of people have taken this class, but millions of people have downloaded Santos’ podcast. We all know that the rise in the number of people suffering from isolation, loneliness, depression, and anxiety is staggering.
Why is that, and how should we assess this happiness class? Santos was recently interviewed by The New York Times and the interviewer asked,
“On the one hand, we have more resources at our disposal to pursue happiness compared to any other civilization in the history of the world; and yet, we still find it so hard to figure out how to be happy. Why is that?”
Santos responded by saying,
“Our minds lie to us. We have strong intuitions about the things that will make us happy, and we use those intuitions to go after that stuff, whether it’s more money or changing circumstances or buying the new iPhone. But a lot of those intuitions, the science shows us are not exactly right—or are deeply misguided. That’s why we get it wrong. I know this stuff, but my instincts are totally wrong. After a busy day, I want to sit and watch crappy Netflix TV shows, even though I know the data suggests that if I worked out or called a friend I’d be happier. But to do that I have to fight my intuition. We need help with that, and you don’t get it naturally, especially in the modern day. There’s an enormous culture around us of capitalism that’s telling us to buy things and a hustle-achievement culture that destroys my students in terms of anxiety.”
In essence, Santos goes on through her course to offer life hacks—a number of techniques—through which we can resist our natural inclinations in order to try to live a happier life. There is nothing wrong with that. She's offering good advice. It's not rocket science. If you want to be happier, stop watching so much TV and delete all the apps off your phone. It's good advice though, and if it helps you, that's great. My only problem with it is that it doesn't go deep enough. Even Santos admits that. She says in this interview,
“The dirty secret is that we can intervene and briefly change behavior but long-term change is really hard.”
Long term change is really hard. But you know what? That's what Jesus offers. Everybody wants to be happy, but true happiness often eludes us. We have this intuitive sense that something is missing, but we don't know where fullness can be found. Jesus provides us, therefore, with a surprising resolution to this problem. He doesn't offer us mere techniques, but transformation. He doesn't offer us mere happiness, but wholeness. That comes through in the passage that is before us. We are reading a famous passage where Jesus says that the entire reason why he has come is so that we might have life and have it to the full—so that we might find true, full, abundant life in him.
During this season of Lent we've been engaged in a series where we have focused on those places in the gospels where Jesus employs the phrase, “If anyone.” And more often than not, Jesus uses those two little words in order to extend an invitation to people to become a follower of Jesus, to become a disciple, to become a student, to become an apprentice of his way of life. Then he proceeds to lay out both the costs and the benefits that such a commitment will bring. In this sermon, I'd like us to consider three questions based on the passage that is before us. Who is Jesus? What does he offer? And how do we receive it? We'll answer these questions by examining John 10. If you'd like, let me encourage you to open up a Bible. I'll be reading John 10:1-15.
1“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
7So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.
This is God's word. It's trustworthy, and it's true, and it's given to us in love.
Who Jesus Is
The first question, who is Jesus? Jesus offers a number of suggestive metaphors in this brief little passage. He piles one metaphor on top of another. But for the moment, I'd like to simply focus on one—the metaphor of a door. Jesus says, “I am the door.” Doors are almost universally evocative symbols. You can think of the wardrobe in the Narnia Series, or the little door at the bottom of the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland, or Platform 9¾ in Harry Potter. Doors capture our imagination. We sense almost instinctively that doors are not nearly barriers, but rather, they are portals through which we can be transported into another world. Doors are the means by which a whole new world can be opened up before us.
I find it fascinating that the best selling book series in the history of the world is Harry Potter. The series has sold over 500 million books. It's been translated into 80 different languages. Here we are living in the 21st century. We're modern people. We believe that human beings have grown up. We don't need fairy tales or superstition. We don't believe in miracles or the supernatural anymore. What you see is what you get. We are supposed to approach life with this cold, detached rationalism. There's a natural explanation for everything. Then here comes J.K. Rowling, introducing this world filled with wizards and magic, fantastic creatures, and secret powers. What I find so intriguing is that the world she creates doesn't exist in some other separate place far beyond the real world in which we live. No, the world that she creates exists within this one. All this magic and sorcery, it's all happening underneath our noses. But if you're a muggle—if you're a non-magical person—you can't see it. You can't perceive it. She creates this world within the one in which we live and thousands of readers around the world can't get enough of it.
What does that tell you? To me it says that we cannot suppress the feeling that there must be something more. There must be something more to the world in which we live beyond what we can see and what we can touch, beyond what we can weigh and measure. Maybe there really is a whole other dimension to life that overlaps and intersects with this one in which we live, if only we had eyes to see it. That is what Jesus is suggesting in this passage. He's not only saying that there is a door to a whole other dimension to life, but rather he is the door. He's the access point. He is the way we enter into the world that lies beyond us.
If we take a closer look at the imagery that Jesus employs here, we see that he starts out by talking about the door of a sheep pen. In the ancient Near East, a sheep pen was often a large courtyard that might have been near or even bordering a house. It would have been enclosed by a stone wall, perhaps with briars growing on top, which would have served like natural barbed wire. The proper way to enter the sheep pen would be through the door. The only reason why you would come in through some other way, the only reason why you would climb over the wall to get into the sheep pen is if you were a thief or a robber. You come in covertly in order to steal the sheep and to do them harm.
What Jesus Offers
Jesus is suggesting he's not a fraud. He's not a thief or a robber. No, he is the real deal. He's the shepherd of the sheep; therefore, he enters through the door. In fact, he says he is the door, but the door to what? Which brings me to our second question, what exactly does Jesus offer? The answer is everything, or at least everything that really matters. This brings us to the very heart of the passage. Here in v.7-10, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
“If anyone enters by me, he will be saved.” Do you see that? Jesus does not merely offer happiness, but wholeness. If you want to experience true life, real life, full life, abundant life, the kind of life that we long for, the kind of life that we dream of, the only kind of life that we want to have, then there is no other place to find it than in Jesus. Jesus says something very similar in John 17:3. He says, “This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Knowing God is the key to eternal life. There's no other way to find the full life, the abundant life, outside of him. This is not some kind of cold, distant, detached, rationalistic kind of knowing. No, this is the kind of knowing that is close, personal, intimate, and committed. Knowing God is the key to eternal life, and eternal life begins now. Eternity begins now, and it lasts forever.
If you were to ask, what does this life consist of? Then we should take a closer look at some of the metaphors and the images that Jesus uses here. There's a number of things that we could say. What do you know about domesticated livestock? This is New York City, so I'm assuming not much. But that's OK. My guess is that we probably have a certain conception in our minds of how shepherds function. We are more familiar with Western shepherds who might try to corral and to drive their sheep, perhaps using a sheep dog to keep the flock in line. But that's not how it actually worked in the ancient Near East. Shepherds didn't drive their sheep from the back. No, they led them from the front. They led their sheep by calling them with their voice. Jesus is describing what it was really like in v. 3-5. He says that, “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” When Jesus uses this imagery, he's not being poetic here. This is actually how it worked in the ancient Near East.
There's an author named Gary Burge, who tells the story of a Palestinian woman who lost her husband in the conflict with Israel years ago. As a result, all of her livestock, all of her sheep, were confiscated, so she went to the facility where her sheep were being kept in this massive detention pen. She approached one of the Israeli soldiers and asked if she could retrieve her sheep. The soldier pointed to the pen that was filled with hundreds of animals, and said it would be impossible for her to separate her sheep from the rest. But she pleaded with him. She said, if she were able to separate her sheep from the rest of the livestock, could she keep them? He said, yes reluctantly and hesitantly. At that moment, her young son drew out a small reed flute, and began to play a very simple tune over and over again. As this boy plays this flute, some of the heads of the sheep pop up to listen, above all the other livestock. A soldier opens the gate, and these sheep make their way through this detention pen, out of the gate, and follow this boy all the way home. Jesus is saying, this is what it means to be a follower of Jesus. You hear his voice. You recognize his voice. And you follow his voice.
My question for you is, what is the primary voice in your life right now? What is the voice that directs and controls you? It could be the outer voice of social acceptance. It could be the inner voice of self critique. Do you spend more time listening to the voice of social media or cable TV, or do you listen to the voice of Jesus? What is the primary voice that influences you? Are you listening to the voices of strangers, or are you listening to the voice of Jesus?
Jesus promises us that if we listen to his voice, he will lead us in and he will lead us out. What is that supposed to represent? To be led into the pen, means to be led into a place of security and safety and to be led out is to be led to a place of freedom and mission. Isn't that what we all want? We want to be secure. We want to know that no matter what life might throw at us, we're going to be OK. We're safe. We might experience hardship and suffering, but ultimately, no harm can befall us. We want to know that we're secure no matter what. At the same time, we want to be free. We want to be able to identify and to utilize our gifts to make some difference in the world around us. We want to know that our lives count for something. We want to be a part of something that is significant and meaningful. That's what Jesus offers, both security and safety as well as freedom and mission. Oftentimes, it seems to us like we can't have both. We can either have one or the other. We can be secure, but we have to give up freedom. Or we can be free, but then we have to give up some of our security. But Jesus says no, you can have both. In me [Jesus], you can be both secure and free, in this life and in the next.
How We Receive It
If that's the case, then how do we get it? How do we receive this full, abundant life that Jesus came to give? There's only one place where we'll find it. “If anyone enters by me, he will be saved.” There is no other way. A lot of people bristle at this language. How can Jesus be so exclusive? We would prefer it if there were multiple ways into the full, abundant life because then we can allow for a diversity of even contradictory opinions, or we can make room for all kinds of different lifestyle or behavior choices. We don't want anything to place a curb on our thoughts or boundaries around our actions. We want to do whatever we want. We want to think whatever we want. But Jesus says it doesn't work that way.
Famously in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that there are really only two paths. There are only two paths in life; and therefore, you have to make a choice. One leads to destruction. Only one leads to life. He says, on the one hand, there is the easy path. Why is the path easy? Because the gate, the point of entry, is wide. It's broad. Anybody can walk through it. It doesn't require anything of you. You don't have to leave anything behind. That's why so many take it. But Jesus says the problem is, though the way is easy and the gate is wide, it leads to destruction.
Then on the other hand, the other way is hard. Why is it hard? Because the gate, the point of entry, is narrow. It's easy to miss. You have to look for it in order to find it. In fact, that gate is so narrow, it's a little bit like the turnstile at a subway entrance. You can't take your luggage through there with you. You have to leave behind your preconceived ideas, notions, and commitments. You have to forsake lesser loves and loyalties in order to pass through this gate. And like that turnstile, you can only go through one person at a time. You have to go through. You have to make that choice. But Jesus says, though this way is hard because the gate is narrow, this is the path, and the only path, that leads to life.
This is what separates Christianity from every other religion, every other philosophy, in the history of the world. Every other founder of a religious movement was self-effacing or at least they tried to be. But Jesus was self-advancing. Every other religious teacher or philosopher would effectively say, look, this is the way. This is the path as far as I can perceive it. There's the door. Enter it. But Jesus says, I'm the way. I'm the path. I am the door. Enter me. He is the only way to the life that we seek. The reason why there is only one way to life is because there is only one person who did what Jesus did.
Jesus isn't trying to be exclusive for the sake of exclusivity. No, Jesus has done what only God can do, and that is why he's the only door to the life we seek. That's why this metaphor of the door gives way to the metaphor of the good shepherd, which has been standing in the background all along. Jesus says that every other teacher or leader that tries to come in through some other way, is a false shepherd. He says quite bluntly, they are robbers and thieves who have only come to steal, kill, and destroy. That's not how they would imagine themselves. Any teacher, any leader, would imagine that they have come to enrich people's lives, not to steal; to give life, not to kill; to preserve, not to destroy. But Jesus is saying, in effect, by deflecting people away from Jesus, the result is that people end up stealing, killing, and destroying people's lives whether they realize it or not.
Jesus, by contrast, is the good shepherd—the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. Rather than sacrificing the sheep in order to save himself, Jesus sacrifices himself in order to save us. By going to the cross voluntarily, by laying down his life for us, Jesus has done everything that is necessary, fully and finally, in order to reconcile you in relationship to God, to protect you from the ultimate enemies of sin, evil, and death, and to entrust to you a mission—a mission unlike any other you could ever take up. That's why Jesus offers an utterly unique approach to salvation.
Jesus’ approach to salvation is unlike anything else in the world because it's all by grace. You don't contribute anything to your rescue. Your salvation does not depend upon whether or not you live a good moral life or whether you believe all the right things. It isn't based on your religious observance or your prayers. It doesn't depend upon how strong your faith is or how sorry you feel for your mistakes. It isn't riding on how much you give away or how enlightened you become. No, it's based on what Jesus has done for you fully and finally, by dying on the cross for you. He lived and died and rose again, to do everything that is necessary in order to reconcile you in relationship to God and to restore and to renew the whole world. That's why his salvation is not something that you achieve for yourself. It's something that you merely receive. That's what makes it so revolutionary because to follow Jesus means that you not only forsake your sin, but you forsake your righteousness. You not only forsake your sin, the wrong things that you've done, but you also forsake your righteousness, the good things that you've done that you thought would give you a claim on God. No, you don't achieve this salvation. It is a pure gift. You can only receive it.
On the one hand, there is only one door because no one else has done what Jesus has done. There is only one door; and yet, on the other hand, anybody can enter it. Anybody can go through that door. That's what makes Christianity the most inclusive religion in the world. Anybody can enter that door. The question is, have you? Over the last several weeks, there have been quite a few people who have said something like this to me. They have said, I thought I was relatively familiar with Christianity. I grew up around the church. I may not know a lot of theology. I haven't really read the Bible, but I thought I knew what Christianity was. But now in recent weeks, I've come to see that I don't. I'm beginning to perceive that there is a difference between cultural Christianity and becoming an authentic follower of Jesus. There's a difference between the way in which we perceive Christianity within our culture, and what it actually means to become a disciple, to become a student, to become an apprentice of Jesus' way of life. If that's true of you, if those words could describe you, let me encourage you to reach out to me. Tell me after the service. Send me an email. I'd like to know. That would be helpful to me. I'd also like to help you figure out what's the next step that you need to take in your faith.
One of the passages that was important to me when I was younger was Revelation 3:20, where Jesus is speaking and he says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in.” Here, Jesus flips the image around a little bit. Now he's standing at the door, and he is knocking. This is the way in which we become a true follower of Jesus. We hear his voice, and we open the door.
The first thing you need to do is you need to hear his voice. The fact of the matter is that it is easy for us to turn a deaf ear to Jesus. We can try to tune him out. But Jesus may be whispering to you, through your conscience. He may be appealing to you through your sense of guilt, or shame, or emptiness, or meaninglessness. He can speak to you through your successes in life as well as your failures in order to reveal what's missing. He may be speaking to you through the experience of sickness, or suffering, or pain, or loss. He may be trying to break through to you by showing you that there is so much more to this world than we thought through the wonder of new birth or through the tragedy of death.
When he speaks to you, he is calling to you to open the door. And you may come to understand that Jesus is on the other side of that door through a friend, through a pastor, through a book that you read. But when you realize that Jesus is knocking at the door, you must open it. For Jesus has promised that if we open that door by putting our faith in him as Savior, and by submitting to him as Lord, then he will come in forever and bring us the wholeness and the fullness that we seek. First, it is a necessary step. That door is closed. It will not open on its own. Jesus will not force himself in order to gain entry into your life. You have to choose to open that door. Second, this is a personal step. No one can make this choice for you. A parent, a teacher, a minister, a loved one, a friend cannot open that door. You personally must do it.
Third, this is an urgent step. There's no time to waste. If salvation is something that we receive, rather than achieve, then we don't wait until we are better. We don't wait until we have improved ourselves. No, the best thing that we can do is receive it as soon as possible. There's a line in an old hymn that says, “If you tarry till you're better, you will never come at all.” The future is uncertain. You may have no better opportunity than right now. Now is the time.
If you are among those who sense that there is a difference between what you perceive Christianity to be and what it actually means to become a follower of Jesus, you can enter that door by offering the simplest of prayers. I'll offer a prayer for all of us right now. If you've never prayed a prayer like this, I encourage you to join me. Make it your own. Or if you're not sure if you have, then go ahead and pray along with me as well.
Let's pray together.
Father, I acknowledge that I am not the person that you've called me to be. I have failed you through the things that I've done and through the things that I have neglected to do. I've wronged you by scorning your love, and by breaking your laws. I'm sorry. Forgive me. Lord, Jesus Christ, I recognize that I need you. I trust you. I believe that you lived and you died and you rose again for me; and therefore, I open the door. I invite you to come into my life. Take my emptiness and bring me fullness. Take my incompleteness and bring me wholeness. Forgive me, renew me, restore me. Help me to hear your voice, to open the door, and to follow you wherever you lead. Amen.